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Farmers’ outlook improves amid pandemic woes

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 3, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
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Farmers repair a grain drill while planting soybeans in April in Illinois. China is reportedly buying more soybeans, and that's one reason farmers are feeling better about the future. Scott Olson/Getty Images
COVID-19

Farmers’ outlook improves amid pandemic woes

Sabri Ben-Achour Sep 3, 2020
Farmers repair a grain drill while planting soybeans in April in Illinois. China is reportedly buying more soybeans, and that's one reason farmers are feeling better about the future. Scott Olson/Getty Images
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Farmers felt a lot better about farming in August than they did in June and July, according to the Ag Economy Barometer, put together by Purdue University and CME Group. It was up 26 points to 144, which means they felt a lot better.

Farmers have suffered this year: Restaurants stopped buying for a while, meat packing plants shut down, crop prices fell — and then there were the natural disasters.

“The last several months have been super tense,” said Dale Moore, executive vice president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. Now, farmers are a little more positive. “[That] doesn’t mean they’re jumping up and down and shooting off fireworks, but I can see some sunshine on this.”

Ray of sunshine No. 1 is trade, according to Michael Langemeier, professor of agricultural economics at Purdue.

“We’ve heard more positive news, particularly in relationship to China buying soybeans,” Langemeier said. “That’s really improved sentiment.”

Ray of sunshine No. 2: prices

“Farmers are paying attention to prices,” said Dan Sumner, professor of agricultural economics at University of California, Davis. “That’s the big deal going on here.”

Corn prices rose in August, in part because poor growing conditions limited supply, benefiting farmers in the Midwest. But as the economy improved, crop prices have been good to farmers elsewhere, too, including in California, which produces more crops in dollar terms than any other state.

“Hog prices have come back, cattle prices have come back a bit, milk prices came back a lot,” Sumner said.

Government payments to farmers have been critical, and Sumner said the economic downturn pushed some unemployed workers into agriculture, so labor shortages weren’t as bad as some farmers feared. Of course, all of the momentum farmers may be feeling now could evaporate if COVID-19 surges again in the fall or winter.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

What are the details of President Joe Biden’s coronavirus relief plan?

The $1.9 trillion plan would aim to speed up the vaccine rollout and provide financial help to individuals, states and local governments and businesses. Called the “American Rescue Plan,” the legislative proposal would meet Biden’s goal of administering 100 million vaccines by the 100th day of his administration, while advancing his objective of reopening most schools by the spring. It would also include $1,400 checks for most Americans. Get the rest of the specifics here.

What kind of help can small businesses get right now?

A new round of Paycheck Protection Program loans recently became available for pandemic-ravaged businesses. These loans don’t have to be paid back if rules are met. Right now, loans are open for first-time applicants. And the application has to go through community banking organizations — no big banks, for now, at least. This rollout is designed to help business owners who couldn’t get a PPP loan before.

What does the hiring situation in the U.S. look like as we enter the new year?

New data on job openings and postings provide a glimpse of what to expect in the job market in the coming weeks and months. This time of year typically sees a spike in hiring and job-search activity, says Jill Chapman with Insperity, a recruiting services firm. But that kind of optimistic planning for the future isn’t really the vibe these days. Job postings have been lagging on the job search site Indeed. Listings were down about 11% in December compared to a year earlier.

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